A $130,000 worth of American $20 gold pieces dug up in a garden in Great Britain will be auctioned by Morton & Eden in association with Sotheby’s Nov. 29-30 in London.
Called the Hackney Hoard from the London location where the coins were found, 77 of the 80 coins unearthed will go on the block. One lot alone will contain 67 of the coins. The coins are dated from the 1850s to 1913.
The firm said the hoard first hit the headlines when a resident and his friends uncovered them while digging out a pond in his front garden in 2007. The 80 coins were wrapped in grease-proof paper and packed tightly inside a glass preserving jar.
One of the sons of the original owner was traced and the property was returned to him.
One gold $20 was given to the Hackney Museum, where it is to be displayed together with the jar and wrappings in which the hoard was found. Another two coins are being retained.
According to the firm, Max Sulzbacher, son of the original owner, explains that his family was one of some 60,000 Jews who had fled to England to escape persecution after Hitler and the Nazis first came to power in 1933. His father Martin, a banker living in Frankfurt, mother, three young siblings and their half-Jewish maid moved into a double-fronted house in Bethune Road, Hackney, in January 1939. Martin’s brother, with his wife and their two children, had already emigrated to London in 1934 and took up British nationality five years later while. In November 1938, their sister’s husband was sent to Dachau, never to be heard of again.
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“My father was therefore responsible for bringing his sister as well as her three children to London. He was also able to bring over his aged parents – my grandparents – as well. When war broke out, my brother and I were evacuated with our school to Bedfordshire,” Max Sulzbacher said.
“My father and mother together with my small brother and sister were interned as ‘enemy aliens.’ My father was first sent to a camp in Devon, then in the Arandora Star on the way to Canada. However, this ship was torpedoed by a U-boat off the coast of Ireland and many people were drowned. My father was a strong swimmer and after some hours in the water, he was rescued by a Canadian destroyer. After being landed in Scotland, he was sent a few days later to Australia in the boat Dunera. My mother and two siblings were sent to the Isle of Man and later that year, my brother and I joined my mother from Bedfordshire. My grandparents were not interned as they were too old, nor was my widowed aunt. My uncle and aunt were, of course, British citizens.”
Until then, the gold coins had been deposited in a bank in the City of London, but fearing that England would be invaded, “... my uncle thought it wise to transfer the gold coins from the safe and bury them in two jars in our garden.
“When the Blitz started in September 1940, my uncle drove out of London to Chesham to rent a flat where he and the five members of the family were going the next day. Unfortunately that same night a bomb dropped on our house killing them all.”
Martin Sulzbacher returned from Australia in 1942 but he could not find the buried coins.
One of the jars was found as the site was being cleared in 1952. A coroner’s inquest confirmed it was Mr Sulzbacher’s property but he was required to sell the coins through the government broker at the official gold price, receiving at the time just over 1,000 pounds sterling ($2,800).
The second jar was unearthed 55 years later, lying about 2 feet beneath the garden of a new property on the site. “He handed the jar of gold coins to the London Museum who tried to find its origin.” After a number of blind alleys, the breakthrough came when a member of the staff remembered the publicity around the find and subsequent recovery of the first jar of coins in 1952.
“Of course my father had died long ago in 1981. Then they Googled up the name Sulzbacher, which revealed that a Max Sulzbacher was a correspondent of the Association of Jewish Refugees who then traced me in Jerusalem.
“From the proceeds of the auction we will give a sum to the finders and to the person who made the connection from the previous find. Then we will renovate the graves of our relatives who were killed in the Blitz. We will then have a service of dedication of the graves on the 71st anniversary of the tragedy. The balance will be split between myself and my three siblings.”